Pursuant to the law that was enacted to enable non-resident Indians to vote in our national elections, the Government has issued notifications for registration of overseas Indians electors under the Representation of People Act, 1950. Addressing the inaugural function of the 10th Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas here today, the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said that this constitutes the first major step to enable Indians resident abroad to participate in our election processes. He said in the last session of our Parliament we have introduced a Bill intended to merge and streamline the People of Indian Origin and Overseas Citizen of India schemes by amending the Citizenship Act. This will rectify some of the anomalies in the schemes and provide for an Overseas Indian Card which will be given to foreign spouses of such card holders as well.
Dr. Singh said that a large number of workers from Rajasthan are emigrating abroad. We have accordingly established an office of the Protector of Emigrants in Jaipur. I am told that the Government of Rajasthan proposes to build a Pravasi Bhartiya Bhawan in Jaipur. This Bhawan will house the offices of not only the Protector of Emigrants but also a Migrant Resource Centre to provide onsite help to overseas Indians and emigrating workers. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs is implementing the emigrate project that will provide end to end computerized solutions for all processes in the emigration system. The system will link all key stakeholders on a common platform which will be used by workers, offices of the protector of emigrants, recruiting agencies, immigration officials, employers and the Indian missions abroad. The scope of our Labour Mobility Partnership Agreements is being expanded to cover not only skilled workers but also students, academics and professionals. Such Human Resource Mobility Partnership agreements are being negotiated with the Netherlands, France, Australia and the European Union.
He said the government has decided to introduce and sponsor a new Pension and Life Insurance Fund for overseas Indian workers. The schemes will encourage, enable and assist overseas workers to voluntarily save for their return and resettlement for old age. It will also provide a low cost life insurance cover against natural death. The scheme fulfills a long pending demand of our workers abroad. We are acutely conscious of the safety and security of Indians living abroad, particularly in regions, of instability. There are over six million Indians living in the Gulf and West Asia. We need to be alert to the unfolding developments in this part of the world. We have conveyed to the countries of the region that we have a stake in the peace and stability of this region and that we expect that they would appropriately look after the interests of Indian communities in their countries.
Dr. Manmohan Singh said that following the upheaval in Libya last year, the Government undertook Operation Safe Homecoming to evacuate more than 16,000 people from the strife torn areas through special flights, passenger and naval vessels. Similar evacuations were carried out in Egypt and Yemen on a lower scale. We stand ready to extend such help elsewhere should the need arise. Last year, the Government constituted an inter-Ministerial Committee under the Cabinet Secretary to make recommendations on issues relating to repatriation, relief and rehabilitation of Indian nationals affected by recent developments in the west Asian region. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has prepared an Action Plan to implement its recommendations.
He said that despite an adverse international environment, the Indian economy is expected to grow by about 7% this financial year. However, we hope to bring back the rhythm of our growth processes to sustain an annual growth rate of 9-10%. Our domestic savings rate which currently stands at 33-35 percent of our GDP will facilitate the realization of our growth objectives. Our efforts to battle inflation are producing results and there has been an improvement in the situation. We have attempted sincerely to address the rising expectations of our people with regard to governance and delivery of public services. The Right to Information Act has proved to be a powerful instrument of bringing in transparency in governance. I am confident that some of the other legislations on these issues, which are on the national agenda, will make a similar impact in the years ahead.
Shir Vayalar Ravi, Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs said that over 1800 delegates from about 50 countries are participating in this Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas. He said that there is an estimated five million Overseas Indian Workers mostly in the Gulf and Malaysia. There is a net annual outflow of over half a million workers from India, excluding returnees. He said these workers make a significant contribution to India and account for close to 40 percent of the total remittances that India receives each year. Last year, India received over 50 Billion US Dollars as remittances. Mr. Ravi said the vast majority of these workers are temporary contractual workers in the informal sectors. They often do not have the protection of labor laws in the host country. This makes them especially vulnerable to economic downturns and sometimes to exploitation. In particular, the often appalling conditions of work and the absence of social security protection for women domestic workers, needs strong governmental interventions. Even the International Labour Organisation has recently drawn attention to the urgency in this regard. He said that India has therefore concluded bilateral agreements with many of the GCC state to work together to ensure decent work and suitable safe guards for women workers.
The Chief Minister of Rajasthan Mr. Ashok Gehlot announced a new scheme, ” Know Rajasthan ” for non resident Indians. He said under this scheme 50 NRIs from 18-28 years of age annually would come on tour to the state. 90% expenditure of their Air Fare will be borne by the Rajasthan Government. He said that along with this, expenditure on internal transport and residence will also be borne by the State Government.
The Prime Minister Ms. Kamla Persad Bissessar, the republic of Trinidad and Tobago said that India has been and continues to be a great friend of Trinidad and Tobago as we continue to be friend of India and has extended this hand of friendship by providing hundreds of scholarships for our nationals to train in world class Indian Institutions. In particular, India has a lot to teach the world in terms of how to attain food security, as well as to make affordable computers and I-Pads which are basic tools in generating creativity and international competitiveness. She said Trinidad and Tobago as a gate way to America has a number of trade agreements which will allow for market access into the 600 million Central and Latin American markets. For those of us who may be unaware to Trinidad and Tobago, we are the world’s number one exporter of methanol and at times urea. In fact the largest methanol plant in the world is located in Trinidad and Tobago. She said that a Mini Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas can be organized in Trinidad and Tobago.
Shri Shivraj Patil, Governor of Rajasthan and Shri Parvez Dewan, Secretary, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs were also present on the occasion. Shri B.Muthuraman, President, Confederation of Indian Industry presented the vote of thanks.